I won’t shut them out.

Okay, let me be real with you. I am well. Life and ministry thrive. God has provided a sustainable, flexible career. I get to disciple others, be involved in Kingdom work, and I have deep friendships. My daily needs are met, and my emotions feel stable. I laugh often.

There is much beauty.

But there are moments when still his “absence is like the sky spread over everything,” and missing him is a little more poignant. Certain occasions still create the now familiar heaviness. It’s not debilitating pain of the early days, but rather a slow, dull ache. It’s an undercurrent of longing that shifts the tide and returns my heart to a place of introspection.

absence

Let me set the scene.

“The past tense of three!”

Laughter erupts at the ridiculous clue. Past tense of three? A shouted answer, a round disc passed, voices intense, and an intermittent beeping creates a fever pitch as it hurtles toward the timer’s end. Groans mix with whoops, and the guys leap from their seats. High fives all around, one would think they won the Super Bowl rather than a round of Catch Phrase.

Laughter comes in rolling wave upon wave. It’s a perfect moment frozen in time. But Jon’s not there, and it feels like he should be.

I’m one of the “lucky ones” (though luck is truly a myth) who has always adored her in-laws. I fell in love with Jon’s family immediately. And in death they have still counted me their own. I am so very thankful.

But this time it was hard to be with them. To me his absence was a startling contrast to the laughing family around me. Lies crept in.

They’re done missing him.” 

I guess we’ve exhausted the storehouse of shared memories.”

He’s being replaced.”

Without realizing it, I retreated to the safety of my thoughts.

“Ames, are you okay? It seems like this trip has been especially difficult. Sometimes it seems like you hurt more when you’re with us.”

“I do hurt more.”

And given the opportunity to process aloud, my words came in a flood. “It feels like he should be here. When I look at Ben with Holden, I see what Jon would have been like with a son.”

“I’m so excited for another brother to come into the family. (My youngest sister-in-law is headed toward marrying a fantastic guy) “But sometimes I think–‘a new adopted son to replace the old.‘”

“We’re not done missing him. You know there are lies among those thoughts, right?

“Yes.”

“We’re your family. You don’t have to put the walls up.” And then I understood she was right. I had begun to shut them out.

But I need them. And I have a sneaky suspicion that they need me too.

The heaviness lifted. I don’t have deep theological truth to share this time, just simple thoughts. An emotional wall is the opposite of grace.

  • Grace gives permission to handle things differently.
  • Grace remembers the dull aches of others.
  • Grace does not steel itself against hurt.
  • Grace loves and cherishes.
  • Grace does not believe lies.
  • Grace laughs.
  • And grace arrives with open arms.

So as long as they’ll have me, I’ll have them. I’ll keep my heart open. When the missing is more poignant, I won’t shoulder it alone. For grace recalls its family.

“I hold you in my heart.”thank


“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace”

Philippians 1:3-7a 

For more about adoption, in laws, and grace check out these posts:

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Trade loneliness for peace.

not alonwWide open skies, green fields, glimpses of rich dark soil between the rows: I soak up the landscape, marveling at the God who made it.

No music plays. No phone calls are made. Instead I relish the silence. And I realize I’m content to be alone with my thoughts, content to pray, content to slow down and listen.

This is a gift of grace.

Though I love music in the car, I’ve learned to be comfortable with silence. When my heart is quiet, I can meet with God.

Thank you, Lord, for wind and rain. Thank you for suffering. Thank you for seasons of refreshment. Thank you, Lord, for life.

My heart floods with peace and grace quantifiable. I’m happy. It’s a moment in time void of struggle. Words like security, stability, protection, and joy spring to mind. These are the mercies of God, flowing from His heart to mine. He protects. He secures.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 ESV

A heart guarded, a running conversation between God and me, we pick up where we left off.

Solitude is word that speaks peace to some, dread to others. In my life, it extends beyond a quiet country drive. God has taught me how to be alone. He has transformed solitude to prayer.

In past days solitude would have been a different word, however.

Lonely.

“I’m so lonely I could scream!”

When half of me was ripped away, I knew a loneliness that permeated every interaction, every worship service, every evening by myself. “Alone” felt like a curse word. Loneliness was a profound ache at the core of my heart that sometimes made me feel crazy.

Over time, I poured loneliness into pages and pages of prayer. Talking to God began to be like breathing– constant and necessary. Prayer was no longer a short chunk of time, but blossomed into flowing streams of conversation with the One who made me. Yet again a gift of grace.

He met me with patient, gentle refrain. ”You are not alone.”

And therein lies the catalyst, Jesus satisfies. If I have Jesus, I have all I truly ever need. Peace emanates from Christ.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” Isaiah 26:3-4 ESV

He offers perfect peace.

Like everyone else, sometimes worry and anxiety barricade peace, but today belief affects actions. Because Jesus satisfies, loneliness gives way to solitude. And solitude is fertile ground for time with God.

Conversation with Him reflects a mind “stayed on” Him. And He guards my heart. Anxiety and fear have no choice but to flee.

People and things temporarily fill the space called “lonely,” but at the end of day, I’m left with a vessel that leaks.

But “lonely” filled with Christ is a cup that never leaks, overflowing and inundated.

Jesus, you satisfy. By grace I know it to be profoundly true. Draw me ever closer to you. Fill me with you, for you obliterate loneliness. Teach me to embrace solitude as a catalyst to prayer.  When my heart is afraid, anxious, or worried, lead me back to peace that surpasses understanding. Guard my mind with you.


This post by Ami appeared first at anewseason.net

guarded

Yes Lord. Refine Me Again.

slaveryWhen I found myself sobbing on Mother’s Day, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Happy tears. Sad tears. Angry tears. An external processor to the core, it gets embarrassing sometimes.

But I laugh a lot too. So I suppose they balance out. A friend put it this way, “Ami, you just feel a lot on the outside.” Ok, I’ll take that.

Therefore, I should not have been blindsided. But I was.

A sucker punch straight to the gut, an imaginary referee counted down. These weren’t a few tears at the corners of my eyes, but shuddering waves, a flood impossible to stem.

I’ve been there before. Sure, I anticipate struggle on the major days, Christmas, anniversaries, birthdays, but Mother’s Day falls off the radar.

When I realize a “grief day” is coming, I actively prepare. I have learned to expect grace, to look for tangible manifestations of God’s compassionate care. And He faithfully turns dreaded days into peace, joy, and laughter.

The most difficult days, though, are the ones unexpected.

But the cause is not what you think. The sorrow wasn’t about motherhood and unmet dreams. Instead it had everything to do with a passage of Scripture.

Have you ever been deeply pierced by the Word?

For you, O God, have tried us as silver is tried, You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs, you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.” Psalm 66:10-12

The words leapt from the page, forever connected to a memory blazoned in startling clarity.

Only a week before he died, God and I talked about those words. I didn’t know death was at my door, but I sensed a season of suffering.

“Ok, we can face the wind and the rain together.”

Peace dispelled the fear that day. God would walk with us through the fire and water. We were precious in His sight. (Isaiah 43) I expected us to come through the fiery trial together. I thought abundance meant a return to the delightful circumstances of my choosing.

But I had to change my definition of abundant.

A 27 month journey to date, from one side of the valley of death to the other, now I call abundant something different.

Abundant is being rescued from the wrath of God by the blood of the Son of God. Abundant is a slave turned radiant bride.

Abundant is not determined by my physical circumstances.

“How wealthy is the place of every believer, and how doubly does he feel it to be so in contrast with his former slavery; what songs shall suffice to set forth our joy and gratitude for such a glorious deliverance and such a bountiful heritage. More awaits us. The depth of our grief bears no proportion to the height of our bliss.” – Charles Spurgeon.

So, confronted anew with Psalm 66, it compelled me once more to wrestle its heavy truth.

“…tried us as silver is tried…” Must I continued to be tried?

Though my flesh shouts, “No more refining,” my souls whispers, “Yes, Lord. Refine me, and refine me again. For you are worthy of pure worship.

A whisper, a wisp of flame, kindles again a blazing flame. “Yes Lord!”

“You have brought us out to a place of abundance.”

Do I still believe this?

Yes, Lord.

Jesus is the abundant place.

Crushed dreams, a broken house. But let the house be rebuilt on the solid rock whose name is Jesus! I hold dreams loosely. God is the designer of my expectations.

Often I’ve asked “Isn’t it enough God? Must I be refined further still?”

But I am not called to be “just enough” sanctified. God deserves the most precious, costly silver, the rarest vintage of wine, the most brilliant diamond.

yes Lord

Refine me, and refine me again.

Sobbing turned to praise, as entirety of the Psalm slid into view.

Shout for joy to God!

Sing the glory of His name!

Give to Him glorious praise!

Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!’

So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.

All the earth worships you!

And sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.
Come and see what God has done….

Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of His praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living! …

Come and hear all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul! …

But truly God has listened; He has attended to the voice of my prayer.

Blessed be God because He has not rejected my prayer or removed His steadfast love from me!” – Psalm 66

I don’t want “just enough” of God. I want all of Him. And He wants all of me. And I will shout, “Come and see what God has done for my soul!’

He makes me rest in His abundance. He showers me with good things. He remains steadfast in his love. He refines, and His visage radiates ever clearer from my life.

Even the knockout, sucker punch days are beautiful. Even a grief day can be the catalyst for greater depth. And tears for me are a door to illumined truth.

Then make me what you will, Lord. Refine me, and refine me again.


This post by Ami appeared first at Intentional By Grace

 

I don’t want to write about grief.

A post for widows, but perhaps truth for many…

comfort

I don’t want to write about grief.

I sat brainstorming for my upcoming post for A Widow’s Might. “How can I encourage other widows today? What do these hurting sisters need to hear?”

A revelation lodged itself firmly in my heart. Though I’m responsible for a post about grief, I don’t want to write about it.

How utterly marvelous and liberating!

“Why? What do you mean?”

Let me back up a moment. Two weeks after my husband died, I was compelled to chronicle the aftermath publicly, to let others see the crushing pain, to not shy away from places some fear to tread.

I’m not one to run away, so I attacked grief, aggressively processing facet after facet. I allowed myself to be in the deep places. And it was not wrong for me to be there.

I’ve unpacked layer upon layer of sorrow, filling 100s of journal pages and constructing nearly 60 blog posts. Writing is an outlet where confusion turns to clarity, where tears funnel into something productive.

More importantly, writing is the place where I preach truth to myself. I had to be raw and honest, but I also had to show the radical hope found in Jesus Christ. Writing about my grief cemented the truths God made clear in the valley:

It’s been an immensely necessary and beautiful part of the journey. I think it may yet have its place, but today my heart says, “It’s time to write about other things.”

Perhaps then, the most liberating and radical truth I can share is this: we don’t have to stay in the stranglehold. Through Jesus, grief cannot utterly destroy. Rather, He crushed death to death, and He turns mourning into dancing. He teaches us to write about other things.

Grief does not define me, nor is it my identity.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who love me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 

Christ lives in me, and He defines me. Redeemed. Chosen. Adopted. Beloved. Complete. Whole.

Now don’t miss this, I’m still madly in love with my husband and miss him daily. I’m sure tears will still come at needed moments. Yet by grace, I walk forward.

And today, I don’t want to write about grief.

Father, through Jesus there is immense hope, confident expectation. Jesus took my spiritual death, and one day even physical death will be no more. Eternity awaits, forever with You. And these things fill my heart with joy! You will turn mourning into dancing and sorrow into gladness. God You were with me in the valley of death. You wept beside me there for many weeks. But now, I’m thankful You have led me from it. 

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” Psalm 30:11-12


This post by Ami appeared first at anewseason.net

So she started to walk.

she sangA fourteen year old kid sat alone beneath the moonlit sky. New life stirred within her spirit. Hope. It was a word she hadn’t known for many months. All had seemed futile. But now, oh but now, everything was different! She saw. She understood. She wept with joy, clearly comprehending for the first time, the debt paid on her behalf. Peace.

And in her heart she counted the cost. To this One, the Redeemer who died and rose again, to the One who set her free, she’d give anything.

“Child of weakness watch and pray, find in me thine all in all. Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe…”

“Oh Lord, I am fully and completely yours. I will not run from the hard paths. You’ve given me life and hope. And you are worth everything.”

I remember that kid. Life immediately turned a radical 180. She grew like wildfire, with the unshakeable faith of fresh belief. She prayed and Heaven answered. God heard her. It was as simple as that. There was nothing He could not do.

She began to walk, and the path was filled with wonder. Marveling at beauty she’d never seen before, her heart felt light and airy.

Over time, however, the path began to twist, and she couldn’t see what lay ahead.

“I will guide you with my eye upon you.” the Redeemer reassured.

As she walked, she noticed thorns amid flowers and tangled vines beside and above. At times the sky grew dark, and rain soaked her through and through. She stumbled. Muddy and bruised, the way wasn’t always as pleasant as she’d imagined.

She thought of that initial surrender. “I will not run from the hard paths.”

All the way the Redeemer led her, keeping his eyes steadfastly upon her. And she returned his gaze.

There were steep hills and deep rivers. There was wandering in the wilderness. She staggered, but the Redeemer gently pulled her to her feet.

Sometimes she wanted to quit. Sometimes she looked around and thought that other paths seemed a little more fragrant.

“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot…In your presence is fullness of joy.”  She reminded herself often.

And there were also flowers and many days of sunshine. She rested in green meadows. She drank from peaceful streams. Ocean breezes cooled her face. Breathtaking landscapes crept over the horizon.

There were fireside chats. And music. And laughter. And night skies filled with a million stars. There was even beauty among the thorns.

The path was a winding ribbon, taking her places she’d never expected. Sometimes it was hard, much harder than she’d initially guessed. But she was cared for, loved, free, clean, and known. It was completely worth it.

One day, without warning, she walked right off a cliff. In terror she tumbled end over end, falling deeper than she ever had before. The chasm seemed to have no end.

How she did not die when her form slammed to the ground far below, is a mystery of grace.

She lay crumpled, broken, and devastated.

Looking around, she knew the place. The path had led her to the valley of death.

Sobbing. Pain. She couldn’t get up. Looking from the mountain above, others saw her sitting there, knees drawn tightly to her chest, head down, rivers of tears forming at her feet.

Some offered platitudes from the safety of their own paths above and some couldn’t make the treacherous descent. But others climbed down the steep incline and sat there with her. They let their tears mingle with hers.

The Redeemer knelt beside her, tenderly binding her wounds.

Broken, she could not leave the place for many weeks. And in the valley of death, she sat. The winds rose around her, a hurricane. The waters rose in that valley, threatening to drown her.

“Didn’t you know I was headed toward a cliff?”

There were days when she screamed and beat her fists on the ground. Yet more often than not, she sang. For she remembered the Redeemer. And he spoke precious words.

“I will guide you with my eye upon you. Not one millisecond of your journey is outside of my control. Not one instant is without purpose. You are mine. I am here with you.”

And there in the valley she began to see things with new eyes. The stars. Oh how magnificent! Indescribable, infinite in  majesty, they were more brilliant than she’d ever realized.

She caught glimpses of the End. A word formed in her heart to describe that place. Eternity. She began to long for it. And the Redeemer, how she saw him! It was there he took on startling clarity. She’d known his power before, but now she experienced his suffering also. She understood how he had suffered for her.

He was the goal. Eternity. It meant being with the Redeemer.

Over time the broken bones healed. Color returned to her cheeks. She bore jagged scars, but she thought they were beautiful. She noticed flowers growing. She felt a gentle breeze. Eternity called her name.

It was time to get up. She glanced at the incline leading out of the valley. It twisted and turned, and she couldn’t see where it went.

She saw thorns on tangled vines. But she also glimpsed blue skies and rolling meadows ahead.

“Ok, the path may yet be hard. But there will still be beauty, immense beauty. And the Redeemer, He awaits.”

So she started to walk.


“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”  Psalm 32:8

“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance….You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  Psalm 16:5-11

Looking back, I know I left the valley a while ago. Praise God for beauty. Praise God, He is fullness of joy.  Amen!

An oak of righteousness? Two years after death.

???????????????????????????????Two years. Such small, seemingly insignificant words, yet they carry enormous weight.

Be warned, however, this may not be a tightly woven, finely crafted, highly polished train of thought. It’s one of those times I just need to let the words take themselves where they want to go.

Has it really been two years since Jon last kissed me, last made me laugh, last told me he loved me? The passage of time is both an instant and an eternity.

I didn’t believe the friend who told me the “seconds” can be more difficult than the firsts. But she was right. In year two reality set in. “This is my new life.”

I miss him daily, sometimes badly. Someone once asked me if there are days that go by that I don’t think about him. The answer to that is no. And it will always be no.

In the second year, careless words still hurt, pregnancy announcements still caused a twinge of sorrow followed by genuine rejoicing, and loneliness proved a powerful battle. Though grief’s crashing waves were less frequent, it’s reality that, at times, they were still ferocious. This year it was harder to tell people when I was deeply struggling. I wondered if it was still ok.  I’m thankful for close friends who remind me it’s safe to share the struggle.

I admit there were some unmet expectations. I thought surely, by now, I’d be headed to remarriage, toward someone taking care of me, toward not living alone.

There were fears, such as knowing a day is coming when Jon will have been gone longer than we were married. Not sure I’m ready to tackle that one.

Indeed, It took its own shape, this second year. I can think of several themes that encapsulate it: waiting, binding up, defeating lies, learning deeper trust, relinquishing expectations. In a word, sanctification.

“But God, wasn’t death enough? I’m really ok with mediocre. Can’t we take a break from transformation?”

He said no.

Praise God, He’s far more committed to my sanctification than I am! And I’ve started to realize that’s an incredible thing. Let me illustrate.

A couple weeks after Jon died, my pastor and his daughter stood at my door. With puffy eyes, unwashed hair, and clothed in sackcloth and ashes, I heard him say, “We picked this journal intentionally. The tree symbolizes the far reaching influence of Jon’s death. A seed falls down to the ground and dies, but from death there’s abundant life. I think God will grow a tree ridiculously more beautiful than we know. Jon’s life and death. Your life. The gospel will explode, and there will be abundant fruit. Ami, God’s going to use this. And He’ll use you.” 

I had no words to thank him for such a touching gift, but I doubt I believed him then. I didn’t know if there was truly life beneath the ashes.

A tree can be reduced to cinders in minutes, a mere glimmer of time. Fire sweeps through, destroying something strong and lovely. From all appearances the tree is dead, or at least so severely debilitated it may never produce foliage again.

That was me, ashes in an instant.

Ashes in an instant, but it takes many years to grow a mature tree. It took me awhile to embrace that idea. The new sprout must be tenderly cared for, lest it be trampled under foot and die. Likewise, growing means weathering harsh winters, droughts, and fierce storms. Did you know it takes at least 20 years (and sometimes up to 50) for an oak tree to produce acorns? That’s a long time to wait for fruit.

But I want “instant tree.” I want to know what God is doing. I want to see the result.  Yet, just as it takes time to grow a tree, apparently it takes time to grow me.

However, there is beauty even in the growth. Each year brings new blossoms and fresh green leaves. The colors of fall are magnificent.

“That they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:3

Why oak? I mean, why didn’t God say willow tree? Well, oaks are symbols of strength and endurance.They grow to massive height, up to 100 feet tall, and spread 150 feet across. And as any one who’s ever desired quality furniture knows, oaks have some of the hardest wood on earth.

Also, I learned that a sprout growing from a stump of a burned (or cut down tree) grows significantly faster than its counterpart budding from an acorn.

This is what God is committed to, not just shaping and growing me, but a people. He’s committed to His church. He makes it fit to be with him. He spreads its influence through the nations. And He is passionate about His own glory.  He makes oaks of righteousness for His renown.

Therefore, I’m learning to embrace sanctification in all its forms, for God will complete the work He began.  He made me a citizen of the kingdom, a part of a people, totally set apart for Himself.

He’s making me evergreen, with leaves that do not wither, and in due season will produce much fruit (Psalm 1). It’s transformation empowered only by Jesus, and it’s possible only because he was cut down. One day I’ll be never ending new. And all of this because He’s deemed it so. And all this because He says it brings Him praise.

What an incomprehensible thing to think that the God who is already exalted, who already has all honor, would cause my faltering, weak, easily damaged sprout to magnify Him. What a incomprehensible thing to be so loved by God.

Finally, beneath the theme of sanctification ran a flowing current of grace. He empowers. As in year one, grace was tangible, God was abundant.

Grace was strength to sort through Jon’s clothes, give some away, and put some in a yard sale. It was watching a sweet old man walk away with Jon’s slippers. It was nine women invading my home, packing boxes and cleaning my bathrooms. Grace was stepping into a new house without Jon. Grace was pursuing and accomplishing new career goals.

It was bearing sorrow with others and walking alongside dear friends newly embarking on grief’s messy path; shared mourning creates a rich, unique bond that many may never experience.

Ministry blossomed and flourished, writing opportunities expanded. Grace looked like writing post, upon post, upon post, which stretched me and kept me utterly dependent. Grace was excitement, laughter, and a reunion with the Ami who existed before death.

Grace is God answering the constant cry of our marriage. “Father use us. Please let the gospel flow from us. Let us be a part of your kingdom work. Be glorified above all.”

How then, can I not rejoice in this second year?

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shalt exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with robes of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.”

Isaiah 61:10-11

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